High school drama teachers long for the plays they direct to come off perfectly, with every cast member hitting their marks and nary a line flubbed.

James Hagerman, now in his 33rd year teaching theater and media communications at Beechcroft High School, wouldn't mind having to prompt every line if some shy student, coaxed into taking the stage or working behind the scenes, finds his or her voice and gains some confidence.

"In real life, they may not know what to say, but when you give them a script ... they blossom," he said.

Hagerman, who has worked under eight principals during his three decades-plus at Beechcroft, didn't set out to spend his entire career at one school. In fact, four years in, his position was downsized and he was in the process of transferring to Brookhaven High School, but a last-minute change meant he had the opportunity to stay where he started.

"I definitely consider this my home," Hagerman said.

A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, who grew up in the Wyandotte County village of Carey, Hagerman has directed at least two and sometimes as many as four plays during the school year at Beechcroft.

"It's definitely over 100 plays," he said.

Hagerman estimated that he has taught more than 3,000 students, including the group currently in rehearsal for this year's fall play. The comedy-drama "Sixteen in 10 Minutes or Less" by Bradley Hayward will be performed in the Beechcroft auditorium at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15.

Tickets cost $3 for students, $5 for adults.

"Mr. Hagerman understands that the arts are very important to the lives of young people," interim Beechcroft principal Samuel Johnson Jr., said. "It is quite exhilarating to see a student that was once viewed as quiet or shy completely transform themselves into an entirely different character in a Hagerman-Beechcroft production."

Hagerman, who had planned to major in music at Ohio State University, instead attended Findlay College, now a university. After appearing in a summer-stock production of "You Can't Take It with You," he decided to major in speech and theater education.

"It completely switched around my plans," he said of that acting experience.

Hagerman attended graduate school at Syracuse University and had an opportunity while there to become a professional actor. Teaching won out.

"I decided I loved education and I wanted to stick with it, and I've loved it ever since," he said.

A trio of Hagerman's former students, all 1999 Beechcroft graduates and all pursuing careers in the entertainment field in California, are glad he stuck with it.

Steve Urbano, who lives in Sacramento and is in the process of obtaining his Screen Actors Guild card, appeared in his first play his freshman year.

"At the time, I didn't really have a niche," he said. "He gave me a place, basically, that I could call within the school my own."

"He was great as a teacher," said Trymaine Alfred, a Los Angeles resident who's already in SAG and is seeking opportunities in filmmaking and acting. "I had the dream originally to get into acting and filmmaking and all that stuff, and he actually put a little more gasoline to the flame.

"I can reach back to him any time. It's kind of cool to have this really, really relaxed guy you can go to as kind of a mentor."

Yolanda Felton, also of Los Angeles, has appeared in some soap operas, commercials and independent films.

"I was real active in the theater department from day one," she said. "I really, really enjoyed my time in the theater department in general and especially Mr. Hagerman."

Hagerman and his wife, Lori, live in Westerville. Both are involved in a drama ministry at Gahanna Community Congregational Church, where she is the choir director. They have one son, also named James, who is a junior at Wittenberg University, where he is studying communications and creative writing.

"I don't have any grandchildren yet," the elder Hagerman said. "I think when that happens, maybe it will be time to retire.

"Thirty-five sounds good."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1